OCEAN CITY – A quaint community center has opened up downtown to assist international students working and living in Ocean City.
A ribbon cutting was held on Monday afternoon to open the All Friends Community Center for Youth. The ceremony was conducted by Smart Staff, who is dedicated to matching qualified international students with short-term seasonal work experiences in the U.S.
Smart Staff has been working with sponsors to connect Romanian and Moldovan exchange students with Ocean City businesses through the U.S. State Department’s Summer Work and Travel program since 2005.
Smart Staff furthered that the All Friends Community Center for Youth is an addition to their network. It will provide a variety of services to the program’s participants as they adjust to life and work in the U.S.
Smart Staff Managing Partner Calin Voicu, from Romania, first came to the U.S. in 2005 and worked as an international student in Ocean City through the Summer Work and Travel program. He said the business had been a U.S. entity and Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce member since 2008.
Smart Staff is also present in Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, Va., and Wisconsin Dells in Wisconsin, but the All Friends Community Center for Youth in Ocean City is the first office to open. They are planning on opening additional offices in Williamsburg and Wisconsin Dells in the future.
“Me and my colleagues were here in the summer to support the students and employers to suit their needs, but this year we decided it was time to open an office to help them also with travel, because it is a program about cultural exchange, it is not only about work,” Voicu said.
Voicu explained 500 international students from Romania and Moldova have or are coming to Ocean City this year. Besides exploring Ocean City, the center will provide the opportunity for the students to travel within the U.S. to add to their cultural experience. Trips are set up to New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Washington D.C, Six Flags in New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Busch Gardens in Virginia, Boston, Florida, Las Vegas and California.
It isn’t all fun and games for the international students while they are here. Voicu expanded how much goes into getting them to Ocean City.
A job number is required in order for a student to obtain a Visa. Therefore, the staff screens and interviews students and employers on their interests and needs and matches them in the end. Once a student is hired, then the process can begin for them to receive their Visa. Housing is also secured before the students arrived.
Smart Staff picks the students up from the airport and brings them directly to the center where the application for a Social Security number will begin as well as provide transportation to Salisbury to receive it.
The center will also serve as a sanctuary for students. It is place for students to come to have computer and Internet access and receive discounted calling and SIM cards to help students keep in touch with home.
“It is a community center for youth,” Voicu said. “They should come here if there are any problems, or to rest, to communicate with their families.”
Voicu added that the center is also able to offer students a second job when the opportunity arrives.
Harrison Group Director of Sales Ruth Waters, past president of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel were present for the ribbon cutting.
“We couldn’t run our businesses without them, they come at the right time, they stay through September, and they have over 500 kids here this year,” Waters said. “They provide a fabulous resource.”
Pursel added that the center will provide a seamless transition for students when they arrive in the U.S.
“It is just another way to make them feel welcome, and by having a place for them to actually come and feel comfortable, because we rely so heavily on these students,” she said. “Our work force swells in the summer and there are just not enough workers to fill these jobs.”
Voicu was sure to mention how the Summer Work and Travel program changed his life. He and his wife, Cristina, met in medical school. Cristina is a surgeon in France and he received his degree to practice medicine as a general practitioner, but chooses to run Smart Staff and the new All Friends Community Center for Youth in Ocean City instead.
“We came as students, we worked with each student here, and we are perfect at understanding what’s in their minds, and on the other side because we worked here in the United States and we better understand the employer’s needs,” he concluded.
The All Friends Community Center for Youth is located at 203 S. Baltimore Avenue. What used to be a piece of a laser tag business has been remodeled into a comfortable office, which is designed and decorated to resemble a city loft with wood floors, exposed dry wall and brick walls.